April 27, 2004

Life as a Test & Christ's Encounter with the Gentile Woman

Too often my idea of life as a test is "how many beers can I drink without getting a headache the next morning?". This is not exactly the test God has in mind. To put "life as a test" more positively is to say that life is a constant vehicle for our santification.

Rev. Michel makes this point in his book when he says, "Indolence or aversion to everything that gives trouble is common to all men. When we have devoted ourselves to God's service, we would like to enjoy the happiness of our condition without costing us much...St. Paul declares: "He also that strieveth for the mastery is not crowned except he strive lawfully" (2 Tim. 2:5). To aspire to the crown of justice without fighting is a contradiction to the truths of faith - to expect to fight and yet not to suffer is contrary to common sense...Therefore [the enemy] does set before our eyes a lively representation of the difficulties [while] concealing the peace of heart which we shall find in obeying God."

This testing or probing includes a Christ-approved exercise of our faith. Thomas Keating in "Crisis of Faith, Crisis of Love" shows how in the gospels Jesus attempts to bring out the greatest amount of faith in a person that He can. And much of it requires losing our sense of entitlement. Of Matthew 15:21-28, the story of the gentile woman who begged for a cure for her son, Keating writes:
Jesus knows the material with which he is dealing. He is dealing with a woman of extraordinary dispositions. Gradually he leads her on from one peak of faith to another. But notice his means: silence, coldness, rebuff, humiliation.

What is her reply to this indignity?

She said, "You are right, Master." She accepts humiliation. "You are dead right, there is no question about it. It would be wrong to take the children's bread and throw it to dogs. No argument whatsoever. I agree with you wholeheartedly."

And then comes one of those answers which the Holy Spirit inspires, one of those marvelous distinctions which comes from no human wisdom however elevated. It is one of those fine distinctions only love can come up with. After having fully accepted the humiliation, her position there on the ground, and his apparent refusal, her is her reply: "It is true, everything you say Lord. But how about this? The dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master's table."

In other words, "I'm not asking for food which I deserve. For I acknowledge that I deserve none. I have no merits of my own. But after the children have eaten, aren't there always a few crumbs left over? How about dropping me some of these?"...

She conquered the heart of Jesus. The text reads, "Jesus acquiesced." He was beaten at his own game. But with great pleasure, because he cried out in delight, "Oh woman, great is your faith!...you can have anything you want!"

This heroic act of faith was what Jesus was waiting for. Had he acceded right away, granted her petition at the first or second request, she would have never risen to these heights. There is no way to spiritual maturity, to grown in faith, except by this road.

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